Notes on Gastropoda
1. It’s September, a month that feels like summer or fall depending on the presence of a nip in the air and the composition of clouds in the sky. The sunlight is weak and comes in from the west, dappled by the leaves of the apple, the leaves beginning to curl at their margins. Between my husband and I, I am the gardener and he is the cook. I pull at the weeds and prune back what’s overgrown. I pile it up for the compost heap and ready our garden for frost.
On a brown-edged tomato leaf, two slugs move toward an unseen middle, as if each is bound for the other’s point of origin. They stop, bend their heads, reach their antennae as if reaching for the familiar in the dark.
Are you there? Who are you? Are you still there? Do I want you here?
I have never noticed slugs in pairs. But their antennae keep prodding and I think this is more than a greeting, more than maroonment on a dying leaf. By the way they curve toward one another I suspect they’re beginning to mate, and for reasons I can’t ascertain, I want to know if I’m right in this small fortune-telling. I watch, wanting to get outside my head, looking out instead of in.
2. In comparative biology, groups of organisms are observed, sketched, dissected. Morphological traits, the presence of an extra fold, the layered thickness of a shell, the absence of a shell, are meticulously recorded and compared. A species is set apart and given a name. From the Greek, the term gastropod translates to stomach-foot. Gastropoda is the taxonomic class of organisms including terrestrial snails and slugs. Garden pests. Small animals slinking through brief lives on their bellies.
3. Presence of a distinct head, mouth, presence of tentacles with, depending on the species, varying complexities of visual organs, most having only eye-spots, distinguishing just shadow and light.
A slug has one lung. A slug has one stomach. Without shells, they are flaccid, vulnerable to the world. They move about the earth without sound, without sight. Imagine existence in a world so quiet and dark—just a smell of things green and growing, of humic earth, of another body near. And then the sensation of touch, of one body against another, length to length, and something like the flat of a palm. Here. And here.
Seconds stretch to minutes and the minutes string together in groups of five, a group of ten. I rock back from my heels to sit down in the grass, humbled by simple touch, what looks like affection. The slugs wind and grope, and I think of learning the topography of another being.
4. I admire the simplicity. Limited brain capacity. Such big filters, focusing experience on the tactile, the olfactory. A biology teacher once told me that if our sensory filters were lifted so as to bask for just a moment in what surrounds us, we would die beneath that weight of stimulation. And I believe it, the stimulation in my mind so often too much, pondering our actions, our words, wondering what happens next.
And how quickly my attention turns back upon myself.
5. What captivates me is the extension of time. Two individuals curling in a slow tango. The nesting of two. The slipping iridescence of their derma, the blind touch that continues with insemination, that’s been going on for fifteen minutes or more.
They wind themselves like the yin and yang. Like the horn of a unicorn. Like necking giraffes.
Like. Like. Like. The difference between me and the rest of the animal kingdom is a compulsion toward simile, toward placing everything in their separate taxa then forever redrawing connections.
I look up and see that my husband is just inside the house, on the opposite side of the glass door. I can see that he stands at the stove, boiling the water for his cup of tea. But I don’t need to look for long to know the curve of his shoulders and spine, concave at the nape of his neck, and to know as he stares toward our red kettle, he is lost in his own world of thoughts.
Jamaica Ritcher’s work has appeared and/or is forthcoming in Rattlesnake Review, LiteraryMama, This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women (Holt 2007), Labor Pains and Birth Stores (Catalyst Press 2009), Fugue, Kahini Magazine and elsewhere. She is a bookseller and event coordinator at an indie bookstore in Moscow, Idaho.